Q&A with Cynthia Hibbard and Susan Tureck
A conversation between the artists exhibiting in Facing Inward and Out and Krista Schoening
KS: You have both created works related to a ubiquitous US cultural document: the school yearbook. How did you come up with the idea of working with yearbook imagery? How do you regard these works? Would you consider them self-portraits?
CH: Susan came up with the high school yearbook concept, as she was working on this series already when we decided to create a collaborative show based on our experiences growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s. Much of Susan’s work involves humorous or ironic portraiture so I joined suit. High school, of course, is the seminal adolescent experience that anchors our focus. So it was natural to me to also include a depiction of my high school as foil to Susan’s as it was a small, private girls school and her a large, suburban public school. And yes they’re self-portraits. Both of our images appear among our fellow graduates.
KS: Cynthia, these works have elements that feel nostalgic, such as the pattern created by the collage in Violets, which somehow simultaneously reminds me of Formica and a floral print wallpaper. But any nostalgia here seems to have an edge — perhaps a note of defiance — particularly in your portraiture that features famous women. Do you see these qualities of nostalgia and defiance as related in your work?
CH: Both nostalgia and defiance are key to this body of work. I grew up in a bubble of upper middle class white privilege right on the cusp of racial awareness and Vietnam War protest that would be derided through today’s lens of Black Lives Matter and social justice activism. I’m keenly aware of such cluelessness looking back and am ashamed of aspects of my childhood and embarrassing moments when my parents or grandparents acted out in entitled ways. At the same time, those years were filled with fun, love, adventure, a great education and the kind of freedom and carefreeness that is sadly lacking for all children today. I feel lucky to have had such a good time.
KS: Susan, I am interested in the mixture here of the photograph with the very clearly hand-drawn and hand-painted elements. What is the importance of the hand-made mark to you? How does it interact here with the photograph?
ST: I came across some 1970s Instamatic snapshots that my then 60-year-old mother Doris and her boyfriend Chuck took on an impulsive road trip from California to her hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. The images, all portraits of each other at unidentifiable rest stops along the way, were striking for their bland anonymity. Consequently, I focused on them in great detail using color Xeroxes, pencil and acrylic on vellum so they would emerge from a kind of ghostly obscurity to star in their own drama.
KS: Cynthia, the way you approached your collage Babies is very different from the other works in this show, most of which make use of woodcuts for portraits. Why did you decide to approach Babies differently?
CH: I created the Babies series first, in the early days of Covid and before I became temporarily obsessed with woodcuts from hanging out on Zoom in our fellow Shift member Karen Klee-Atlin’s excellent carving and monoprint class. The babies are paper mosaics—another obsession that began in childhood and still infects me today—so much so that I couldn’t restrain from combining this technique with my woodcut prints.
KS: Susan, in some of these pieces you use family photographs as source material, but in some you are borrowing from advertising imagery. Would you describe how these sources inflect the meaning of these works?
ST: I created Family Album by altering actual photos from my 1950s childhood in the San Fernando Valley, a vast suburb of Los Angeles, through drawing and collage. In an attempt to capture the intense post-war suburbanization of the area while holding onto some nostalgic family memories of balmy summer nights, swimming pool parties and other typically Southern Californian events I sought to key up the impact of my drawn subjects by placing them in collaged settings from magazines as if they were dropped into advertising or still from movie sets.